Tablecloths in the library? Quiet conversation during lunch? It must be The Family Dinner Project’s Lunch Mentors Program!
In early March, The Family Dinner Project launched its Lunch Mentors Program at an elementary school in Gloucester, MA. Students ages 5-11 gathered around library tables to enjoy their meals, taking a break from the hustle and bustle of the lunchroom. To create a homey atmosphere, the tables featured tablecloths, flowers, and healthy hor d’oeuvres like carrots and dip. (Our team actually made the dip during a demonstration to show kids how fun and easy it is to make.)
With many students experiencing lunch period as loud, chaotic, and stressful, The Family Dinner Project’s new program hopes to create an oasis of calm. These lunches are “safe spaces,” free from bullying or aggressive behavior — which allows students to enjoy their meals without the fear of judgment or ridicule.
Two parent volunteers sit at each table. By asking questions and directing students towards healthy food choices, the parents encourage thoughtful conversation and eating. Their guidance ensures that each child gets a chance to speak in front of the group. For students who are accustomed to being ignored or talked over, this is a valuable opportunity for them to express themselves. Throughout the lunch, they’re also encouraged to have more conversations around their dinner tables at home.
During this first lunch event, discussions were relaxed and informal. “It’s so nice and quiet!” said one student. “We can actually hear each other talking.”
Although kids brought their own meals from home or the cafeteria, the adults provided a special dessert: apple crisp with whipped cream. Students also brought their own desserts from home, which many kids tried to eat before the main meal. That’s where the parent volunteers came in — by gently reminding students to eat their lunches first, the kids ate more of their “real food” and didn’t fill up on treats.
The Family Dinner Project will be holding its Lunch Mentors Program events once a month at this particular school. During the next meal, students will be using real dishes to create an even homier atmosphere.
Two more special, in-school lunches are scheduled for this year, allowing for new students to experience the program. Hopefully, students will learn new lunchtime eating and conversation skills, which they can take into the cafeteria, or back to their homes. The students were given fun recipe handouts, aimed at getting kids more involved in dinner preparation with their families.
Here’s to fun, healthy meals, and hearing each other’s voices!